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The Grimy 1800s: Waste, Sewage, & Sanitation in Nineteenth Century Britain

The Grimy 1800s: Waste, Sewage, & Sanitation in Nineteenth Century Britain

Автором André Gren

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The Grimy 1800s: Waste, Sewage, & Sanitation in Nineteenth Century Britain

Автором André Gren

Длина:
207 pages
2 hours
Издано:
Dec 19, 2019
ISBN:
9781526731418
Формат:
Книге

Описание

Chronicles of the filth, foulness, and public health disasters found by “inspectors of nuisances” in a newly industrialized world.
 
In the nineteenth century, as towns grew, Britain became increasingly grimy. The causes of dirt and pollution were defined legally as “nuisances” and, in 1835, the new local authorities very rapidly appointed an army of “inspectors of nuisances.”
 
This book reveals the Victorian era from a very different point of view: it offers the inspectors’ eyewitness accounts and details the workings of the Parliamentary Committees that were set up in an attempt to ease the struggle against filth. Inspectors battled untreated human excreta in rivers black as ink, as well as unsanitary drinking water, home to tadpoles and portions of frogs so large that they blocked taps. They dealt with putrid animal carcasses in cattle markets and slaughterhouses, not to mention the unabated smoke from mill chimneys that covered towns with a thick layer of black grime. Boggle Hole Pond was a source of drinking water full of dead dogs; ice cream was coated in bugs; stinking rotting crabs, poultry, and pigeon smells polluted the air. Even the corpses floating out of badly drained burial grounds were “nuisances,” leading to the practice of burning the remains of the dead.
 
This is the history of a grimy century in the throes of the Industrial Revolution, illustrating the many ways in which the country responded to the ever growing demands of a new world.
Издано:
Dec 19, 2019
ISBN:
9781526731418
Формат:
Книге

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The Grimy 1800s - André Gren

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Introduction

Nineteenth century England and Wales experienced huge changes, thanks mainly to the Industrial Revolution. The population grew from almost 9 million in 1801 to more than 33 million a century later (see Appendix 1), which could be attributed largely to the improvements in public health and the decline of infant mortality. The population would have increased further if it hadn’t been for the other demographic phenomenon of the nineteenth century: emigration.

The Industrial Revolution changed the way we worked, which changed the way we lived. Agricultural workers deserted the countryside to work in the cities. Consequently, Britain’s large cities showed substantial population increases during the nineteenth century, both in absolute and percentage terms. What was known as the administrative county of London rose from 959,316 in 1801 to 4,536,451 in 1901. In the Midlands, Birmingham’s population rose from 84,711 in 1801 to 522,204 in 1901. Elsewhere in the Midlands, Leicester’s population grew from 17,005 in 1801 to 65,405 in 1851 and to 211,579 in 1901.

In the north of England, Leeds rose from 53,162 in 1801 to 428,968 in 1901, Liverpool from 77,765 in 1801 to 704,134 in 1901 and Manchester’s population grew from 70,409 in 1801 to 543,372 in 1901. The greatest increase in percentage terms was recorded in Bradford, West Yorkshire, which saw a population of 6,000 in 1801 swell to 279,000 in 1901.

The birth rate per thousand fell from forty-one in 1801 to twenty-eight in 1901. However, even though the rate per thousand fell, the absolute number of births grew. According to census office reports, records of births in England and Wales were introduced in 1838, when the figure was 463,787. By 1901, the figure had more than doubled to 929,807. This is because the childbearing population had grown, the number of births had grown and the instances of infant mortality had fallen. The rate of infant mortality per thousand is not available for 1801, but from 1851 to 1901 it fell from 153 to 127 per thousand, thanks in great part to the improvements in public health and sanitation including the increased availability and cleanliness of running water, better sewerage and the introduction of flush toilets.

However, although the population increased quickly in the early nineteenth century, as the century progressed, the rapid increase in urban population, with its associated overcrowding, led to an alarming deterioration in the living conditions of working people. The new manufacturing processes were causing widespread environmental damage. Britain’s towns and cities blackened as they were covered with a layer of grime from increasing coal consumption and unabated coal emissions. In 1800, England and Wales used 10 million tons of coal. A century later, as a result of expanding industry and locomotive engines, the figure was 250 million tons.

Consequently, the mid-nineteenth century saw a slowdown (which picked up again in the early twentieth century, when Britain’s population rose faster than ever before) but this continued for only as long as it took for new laws to pass that brought in major improvements in public health.

This book does not attempt to offer an authoritative account of the reasons for the growth in Britain’s population in the nineteenth century but concentrates instead on the consequences of that growth and the increasing need for what was termed ‘nuisance control’.

In the fifteenth century, to cause a ‘nuisance’ meant to inflict harm or injury, but by the nineteenth century the term was being used to refer to inconvenience and annoyance. The quaint-sounding ‘inspectors of nuisances’ were appointed with wide-ranging responsibilities. In modern day, these would be environmental health officers and health and safety officers and those employed to deal with antisocial behaviour.

The success of the inspectors of nuisances, who were all over England and Wales, can be seen in the increased life expectancy at birth throughout the nineteenth century. In 1801 in England and Wales, men and women were only expected to live to 40. By 1901, men had a life expectancy of 45 and women of 49. This increase is not entirely due to the work of nuisance inspectors, but their contribution, which is mapped out in this book, is certainly substantial.

The Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 reformed local government and granted corporations new powers through a succession of private bills, which were brought forward under the Nuisances Removal Act of 1846. Inspectors of nuisances all over Britain would argue for or against the bill during an evidence session in front of a select committee.

Inspectors covered a range of nuisances that threatened public health. Many concerned the supply and cleanliness of running water. As late as 1907, Saddleworth’s inspector of nuisances, John Bradbury, reported that people had to put off their washing day because the water was running dirty.

Other examples include Frank White, inspector of nuisances in Bradford, noting that an ice-cream seller kept his stock in pots covered by the same blankets he used for his horses, which were often smeared with horse dung. In London, inspector Alfred Taylor reported bodies floating out of the graves buried 3 or 4 foot (ft) deep in unsuitable non-porous clay. He warned that this was encouraging the ‘disgusting’ practice of burning the remains of the dead. In 1908, William Tyldesley, Leicester’s inspector of nuisances, reported that he had found a number of emaciated beasts ready for sale at butchers’ shops in the town and meat that was unfit for human consumption. James Brown, the inspector of nuisances at Mynyddislwyn in Wales, informed the committee that filthy rag-and-bone men were distributing sweets to children while they were collecting the town’s night soil (human faeces).

Most of the evidence sessions were summarized and recorded immediately after the session and these, mostly manuscript summaries, are available in the Parliamentary Archives in the House of Lords. This book presents edited summaries of the most interesting evidence sessions. The sessions are organized around themes of different types of nuisances. Figures are given for the population in 1801, 1851 and 1901 of each location featured.

This series of snapshots from Britain, which was struggling to cope with rampant population growth and rapid urbanization reminds us of how hard-won these advances in sanitation were – advances that today we take for granted.

Chapter 1

Nuisance Control and Removal in Nineteenth-Century Britain

The population of Britain grew almost fourfold during the nineteenth century and turned villages into urban areas and towns into cities. All this took place when there was hardly any running water, hardly any sewage disposal systems and hardly any flush toilets. The misery of living in such poor sanitary conditions was commented on by the great social commentator of the day, Charles Dickens. In 1864, Dickens wrote in his weekly magazine Household Words that ‘the preventable wretchedness and misery in which the mass of the people dwell, the reform of their habitations must precede all other reforms… . Without it, all other reforms must fail.’

Large areas of cities simply stank, and this didn’t go unnoticed by Dickens either. In his novel, Dombey and Son, published in monthly parts between 1846 and 1848, he called on his readers to ‘look round upon the world of odious sights…breathe the polluted air, foul with every impurity that is poisonous to health and life.’

This striking aside, written in October or November 1847, probably owed a good deal of its urgency to the recent threat of a cholera outbreak. A series of letters published in The Times and elsewhere noted the alarming reappearance of cholera in Eastern Europe and its likely return to England. But if a newly heightened consciousness of epidemic disease lay behind this passage – deliberate propaganda for the public health and sanitary cause – it also owed much to Dickens’ interest in sanitary and public health reform and his habit of making outspoken comments about the absence of regulation on sanitary conditions.

He ranted against what he described as ‘state inaction’ during the cholera epidemic at the end of the 1840s, railing against culpable negligence (again at the national level) that was repeated during the 1853-54 epidemic, which Dickens likened to wholesale murder. In his preface to an 1849 edition of Martin Chuzzlewit, Dickens wrote: ‘In all my writings I have taken every available opportunity of showing the want of sanitary improvements in the neglected dwellings of the poor.’

Disposing of human waste has always been a problem in Britain. The Romans used garderobe shafts (a hole in the floor leading to a cesspit or moat), as did the Normans in their castles. Subsequent generations sought other solutions. For the Tudors, there were three types of toilet, depending on status at court. Henry VIII had a padded seat (sometimes stuffed with swansdown and covered with velvet) over a chamber pot. Lower down the social order, there were personal ceramic chamber pots and communal facilities (called houses of easement). Medieval London had a number of such systems, including an eighty-four-seater, which washed out into the Thames. Garderobes, padded stools, earth closets (using dry earth to cover the waste) middens (refuse heaps), Whittington’s Longhouse (a public toilet in Cheapside with 128 seats and named after London’s Lord Mayor, Richard Whittington with whose money it was built), cesspits and chamber pots all emptied into the street; none provided an ideal solution to the disposal of human waste.

By the early nineteenth century, London had a population of almost one million and over 200,000 cesspits, and public health had become a serious problem. The first cholera outbreak occurred in 1831. In all there were five such outbreaks, culminating in the Great Stink of 1858, when London was overwhelmed by pungent and noxious smells.

By the mid-1800s, the new local government bodies established under the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 were beginning to take responsibility for the health hazards caused by poor sanitation. As the new corporations struggled to cope with their expanding populations, they asked Parliament to grant them new powers through a succession of private bills, which were brought forward under the Nuisances Removal Act of 1846.

One area in which the new local government bodies flexed their muscles was in superintending the introduction of running water and flush toilets.

The bills were there to allow the newly created local authorities to deal with a range of nuisances, from disposal of ‘night soil’, which was collected regularly by scavengers, who would load their carts with the filth from each home and take it off to the nearest river and throw it into the water; to the provision of fresh running water; to coping with the new phenomenon of unruly seaside cyclists. In London, there were concerns about drinking water being polluted by human remains buried in graves cut into the shallow, non-porous clay on which much of the city had been built. Elsewhere, concerns were expressed about how much people must pay for the supply of drinking water through the innovation of taps in domestic homes.

The first ‘inspector of nuisances’ was Thomas Fresh who was appointed as the inspector for Liverpool in 1844. Inspectors sprung up all over England and Wales and they would bring up issues that affected their residents to evidence sessions in front of select committees. There were 208,375 such sessions in the nineteenth century. The total number of sessions relating to nuisance bills was 345 over about seventy years.

In 1846, the Nuisances Removal and Diseases Prevention Act was passed to help improve sanitation in order to stem the spread of cholera. Of the 345 nuisance evidence sessions held following the passing of the Act to its repeal in 1915, 218 feature men who describe their profession as inspector of nuisances.

In 1856, the London-wide Metropolitan Board of Works (the precursor to London City Council) was established. Its aim was to provide the infrastructure to cope with the capital’s growth and one of its major achievements was the creation of the London sewerage system, started by the board’s chief engineer, Joseph Bazalgette, in 1859. It would not be completed until 1875, despite the Prince of Wales officially opening it in 1865.

Inspectors of nuisances came across as often overworked and sometimes overwhelmed,

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